It's hard to imagine a more fly-rod-perfect species than rainbow trout. They're abundant in many streams, tailwaters, and lakes throughout the country. There are ample catching opportunities, yet the species is wary enough to pose a serious (and highly addictive) angling challenge. Hooking and landing these iridescent, bug-hungry beauties is no easy task. But with the right gear, some basic fly presentation skills, and a bit of fisherman's luck, it can be done. Here’s a comprehensive rainbow trout fly fishing guide including tips and gear to get you casting.
Rainbow Trout Fly Fishing Gear
If you're just getting into the sport and are shopping for your first fly fishing outfit, here is a versatile setup that will catch rainbows in 90 percent of the water you fish:
- 9 foot, 5 or 6-weight rod and reel. A 5-weight rod will work fine in most situations, but bumping up to a 6-weight will make casting larger flies and coping with strong winds much easier.
- Trout-specific weight-forward floating line. Trout-specific lines are designed for optimal performance in the cold waters where trout reside.
- 9-foot 5X nylon knotless tapered leader. This versatile leader is strong enough to tame a healthy rainbow but light enough for delicate presentations and drag-free drifts.
- Spools of 4X, 5X, and 6X nylon tippet. You'll need the 4X and 5X to rebuild your leader when it gets short from changing flies. The 6X is handy when sizing down to smaller dry flies.
- A fly box full of fish-catching flies. There are literally thousands of flies that will catch rainbow trout. Go to your local fly shop and ask what's working. When in doubt, keep woolly buggers, hare's ear nymphs, and parachute Adam's dry flies with you at all times.
- Everything else. Nippers for snipping tippet when changing flies, hemostats for mashing down barbs and unhooking fish, a landing net, waders and wading boots, a great Huk performance fishing shirt, sun pro and a bag or vest to tote it all along.
Change Presentation Before Changing Flies
If you aren't getting any bites, it's easy to get sucked into the downward spiral of fly-changing death. Before you know it, you've tied on every fly in your box and your leader that started out 9 feet long has been snipped down to 5 feet. But fear not, there's hope...
One of the biggest rainbow trout fly fishing tips is to focus on presentation rather than fly mojo. More often than not, a rainbow trout will be less concerned with what a fly looks like than how it behaves and moves in the water. Of course, there are times when trout are selective, feeding only on a specific type of insect, but generally, they aren't very picky.
So next time you're getting snubbed by the trout, don't reach for your fly box. Instead, take a good look at the water and start getting creative. How can you change your presentation so that your fly drifts will drag in a more natural and convincing way? Try and try again, and if you’re still nothing, go ahead and tie on another piece of gear.
Focus on Sub-Surface Action
It's so tempting to only fish dry flies. There's nothing more picturesque than a football-sized rainbow trout lumbering up to the surface to sip in your diminutive blue-winged olive. But unfortunately, unless a significant hatch is happening, rainbow trout do the vast majority of their feeding sub-surface.
Nymphs, wet flies, and streamers are your best friends in this game. And don't be afraid to use a strike indicator and weighted flies. If you would rather free-line it, tie on a soft-hackle wet fly, cast 45 degrees downstream and slowly swing the fly across the current. Sometimes, if you want to catch fish, you have to do what it takes to get your fly where the fish are.
Strike Firm, Strike Often
Another big rainbow trout fishing tip is to always be ready to set the hook. Rainbows, even big ones, can be dainty eaters. Don't let a tiny bite fool you. When you feel even the faintest twitch, raise that rod tip and set the hook.
Gear Up & Fish Hard All Day Long
The more time you spend on the water, the greater your odds of outwitting a nice fat rainbow. But to stay on the water all day, you need to be comfortable and ready for anything Mother Nature stirs up.
The best advice? Dress in layers. Start with a performance shirt like the Huk Trophy Kryptek Long Sleeve Tee, pull on a mid-layer like the Huk Kryptek Fleece 1/4 Zip, and if there's a chance of rain or strong winds, stash the Huk Packable Rain Jacket in your bag. With the right rainbow trout fishing gear, you’ll be ready if that magical hatch draws lunkers to the surface.